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Stanley Raymond “Stan” Bahnsen

Abraham Lincoln High School in Council Bluffs is the only Iowa high school, and one of only four or five in the United States, that can lay claim to having two 20-game winning major league pitchers as graduates. The first to win 20 games in one season from Abraham Lincoln High School was Stanley Raymond “Stan” Bahnsen (b. 1944). The other Lincoln High grad to win 20 games in one season was Jon Lieber.

After graduating from high school, Bahnsen continued his baseball career at the University of Nebraska. He always threw hard, but while at Nebraska, Bahnsen maintains that through hard work and a good training table he became “man strong.” Following NCAA rules at the time, Bahnsen only played on the freshman team his first year with the Cornhuskers. Playing on the varsity team his sophomore season, Bahnsen won All-Big Eight and third team All-American honors. In 1965 Major League Baseball inaugurated its first amateur draft. With the 68th pick overall in the fourth round, the New York Yankees selected Bahnsen. He jumped at the opportunity to turn pro and received a $30,000 signing bonus. After going 2-2 during his partial year in AA in 1965, Bahnsen began the 1966 season with the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate in Toledo. There he logged a 10-7 record, which included a no-hitter on July 13. When the rosters were expanded in September, he was called up and made an impressive Major League debut on September 9. He pitched two perfect innings in relief, striking out four batters including future Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski.

Bahnsen made the Yankees roster in 1967, but prior to his first start he suffered a lower back injury. He was sent to Syracuse, but the injury plagued him throughout his 9-11 season, although he did show flashes of brilliance with a seven-inning perfect game against Buffalo on July 9. In 1968 Bahnsen returned to the Yankees Opening Day roster and made his first start on April 17. He pitched into the ninth inning in a 3-2 Yankees win. By the end of June he had a record of 7-3 and was firmly established into the Yankees rotation. Bahnsen ended the season with a 17-12 record, and an amazing 2.05 ERA over 267 innings. He did all of this while also fulfilling Army Reserve duties, which only allowed him to pitch on weekends during part of the season. His incredible first full season was recognized by the Baseball Writer’s Association of America as they voted 17-3 to honor him as the American League Rookie of the Year. In January of 1969 his hometown pulled out all of the stops by honoring him on “Stan Bahnsen Day.” Approximately 450 people attended a banquet in his honor, including the governor of Iowa, along with the governor-elect.

After the 1968 season, known today as the “Year of the Pitcher”, Major League Baseball made some adjustments, including lowering the pitching mound from 15 inches down to 10 inches. Perhaps due to that change, along with a tightened strike zone, Bahnsen’s record dropped to 9-16 in 1969 and his ERA almost doubled. However, Bahnsen remained a prominent part of the Yankees rotation, winning 14 games in both the 1970 and 71 seasons.

Hoping to upgrade their offense, in probably one of the worse trades in Yankees history, they sent Bahnsen to the Chicago White Sox for Rich McKinney. In his only season with the Yankees, McKinney appeared in just 37 games in which he batted .215 and hit just one home run. Meanwhile, Bahnsen went on to win a career-high 21 games for his new team on the south side of Chicago. He attributes his success with the White Sox to pitching coach Johnny Sain, who helped him develop his curveball. The following season, Bahnsen recorded 18 wins, but also lost a career-high 21 games. The high number of decisions for Bahnsen was due to the White Sox experimenting with a three-man pitching rotation. While one of his counterparts, Wilbur Wood, who relied on the knuckleball, thrived in that system, it wasn’t quite so accommodating for the hard throwing righty from Council Bluffs.

The 1973 season was also notable for a couple other reasons. Bahnsen almost became one of Major League Baseball’s first free agents. He did not sign a contract at the start of the season, and would have become a free agent after the season. He finally signed a contract on June 19. Later that season he gave up the first career hit to future Hall of Famer George Brett.

Midway through the 1975 season, Bahnsen was traded to the three-time defending World Series Champion Oakland A’s. He started 16 games with Oakland and went 6-7. He made it to his first post-season that year, but the A’s were swept by Boston in the ALCS, and he did not get into any game.

Beginning with the 1976 season Bahnsen’s role changed from a starting pitcher to relief work. By 1977 the once powerful A’s were being disbanded by their owner Charles Finley. On May 22 he was traded to the Montreal Expos. With the Expos, Bahnsen resumed his role as a starter, going 8-9 for the Expos. In 1978 he was moved back into the bullpen where he alternated as closer, set-up man and long reliever over the next few seasons. During the 1980-81 off-season, the Expos thought enough of Bahnsen’s elderly statesman leadership qualities to re-sign him, at age 36, to a three-year $1 million contract. Montreal finally reached the post-season in the strike-split 1981 season. Bahnsen made his first and only post-season appearance, pitching one and a third innings in a 6-5 division series loss to Philadelphia.

Despite two years remaining on his contract, the Expos released Bahnsen after the 1981 season. He caught on briefly with the California Angels in 1982 before making his final major league appearance later that season for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Since his retirement from baseball, Bahnsen has enjoyed a second career as a promoter in the ocean cruise industry by developing baseball-oriented cruises featuring former Major League players.

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